ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WATE) — The restoration of the Cherokee name, “Kuwohi” to Clingmans Dome has garnered unanimous support from the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. Last month, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council voted to begin the effort to petition the federal government for the name change.
The Buncombe County commissioners met for their regular meeting in Asheville on Tuesday night, where they voted unanimously in favor of a resolution of support for the efforts of the EBCI to restore the name “Kuwohi” to the mountain currently known as Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smokies.
Several people spoke during the commission meeting’s public comment session in support of the resolution and the name change, including an EBCI tribal member, who called on commissioners to be leaders and to see the name change support as an opportunity.
“This type of restoring a name to our ancestral language goes beyond just a signal of importance,” Jared Wheatley, who identified himself as a dual citizen of the Cherokee Nation and the United States as well as a small business owner, said. “It also represents an opportunity to help shape a national conversation about the importance of inclusion of Indigenous peoples and Native people. It’s not a very common act, it’s going to go under federal review and Buncombe County being the major economic center of western North Carolina and you know, a big part of the current economy of what was our ancestral land. It also includes parts of…Tennessee. You have the opportunity to be the first movers and the first to show a strong public support and be incorporated into our application and show the federal government that the neighbors of the Quolla Boundary and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are accepted among their community. The opportunity to rename the mountain and for us to be here speaking about it is kind of vital to our survival of our culture.”
A news release from the commission states the support “echoes the acknowledgment that the area currently known as Buncombe County rests on land that was first inhabited by the Cherokee, their ancestors, and other Indigenous peoples.”
Buncombe County Commissioner Parker Sloan, who presented the resolution to the commission, stated, “The culture and language of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee exists today because of great determination of tribal members and their ancestors. For example, Kuwohi was a place where the Cherokee took refuge to avoid being taken from their homes during the Trail of Tears and therefore has great historical significance to them. The ancestral name of this mountain has been passed down orally through generations despite the forced attendance at boarding schools where they were not allowed to learn about their culture or their native language. To the Cherokee this mountain has always been called Kuwohi and they have asked us, the people of Buncombe County and our government, to join them in their efforts to restore the original Cherokee name of Kuwohi to the mountain presently known as ‘Clingmans Dome.’ Buncombe County applauds our Indigenous neighbors’ efforts and extends our sincere support.”
Buncombe County Commissioner Brownie Newman shared during the meeting that he had been in contact with EBCI Principal Chief Richard Sneed to let him know the commission would be considering the resolution. Sneed reportedly replied to Newman that they would be appreciative and supportive of the resolution aligned with their own.
The commissioners also asked for clarification with EBCI members ahead of the vote, which is when Tribal Councilmember LaVita Hill spoke to them, saying, “just recently we met with our elders, our Speakers Council, who have determined that the correct spelling and pronunciation is ‘Kuwohi.’ The place of mulberries.”
Recently, the EBCI Cherokee Speakers Council voted on the Cherokee name, “Kuwohi” rather than Kuwahi, as previously spelled in the Tribal Council’s first initiative. The Cherokee Speakers Council is comprised of fluent Cherokee language speakers who meet to discuss language and culture.
The EBCI plans to petition the federal government to formally change the name Clingmans Dome to Kuwohi, and it’s a process that has some precedent. In August 2015, the U.S. Department of the Interior, which manages the National Park Service, formally restored the traditional Koyukon Athabascan name of Denali to what was then known as Mount McKinley in Alaska.
According to the Interior Department, former President Barack Obama endorsed the Secretary of the Interior’s decision to issue a Secretarial Order that officially changed the name. The Secretary of the Interior is granted the authority to make such changes in certain cases – per the 1947 federal law that provides for the standardization of geographic names through the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. The name change is reflected in all federal usage.
Denali is the highest mountain in the United States and North America.